#1 ALBS, English language edition
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Set in ancient Egypt, Ra spans 1500 years of Egyptian history. The players seek to expand their power and fame by influencing the Pharaohs, building monuments, farming on the Nile, paying homage to the Gods, and advancing the technology and culture of the people. And all this for the glory of the Sun God Ra!
The players strive for power by collecting tiles that represent various aspects of economic, spiritual, and technological growth. The players acquire the tiles by bidding for them in auctions. The currency for these auctions is tokens given to players by Ra, the sun God. Using these limited tokens, players must decide when to bid and how much to get the tiles they want.
The game spans three epochs, which reflect the history of ancient Egypt:
During these epochs, the players acquire tiles representing various aspects of Egyptian life. They acquire the tiles in auctions, bidding with suns, tokens they receive from Ra. The selection of tiles in the auctions is ever changing, but tokens from Ra are limited. Wise players choose carefully when and what to bid to get the tiles they want. When an epoch ends, players receive tablets marked with the fame they have earned.
The player with the most fame after three epochs is the winner.
Too many things to do - too little time to do them - sounds familiar?
A feature of many games by Knizia is that it is hard to decide on a long-term strategy and follow that throughout the game - you constantly have to re-evaluate your options every round - how the possible courses of action would effect you and the other players.
Games of this type are not for everyone - which is why I normally would only have given this game 4 out of 5. Hoever - I love the Egyptian theme - I have always been interested in ancient Egypt, and that earns the game its 5th star as far as I am concerned.
The first few times I played Ra I came away with an 'Eh' sorta feeling. There's so many ways to score, the strategy wasn't clear, and the theme seemed pasted on.
But I remained intrigued, both by the game and by the praise it's received. So I played it a few more times and I must say I'm incredibly glad I did. It's grown into one of my all time favorite games.
In my opinion this is a true classic, easy to teach (if not incredibly easy to grasp at first), lots of tension ('No Whammy!'), and a good mix of luck and skill. It plays well with 3-5 (one of the few games that really shines with 3) and it can be played almost as a filler (we call it 'Speed Ra') as well as a full meal of a game.
Although I've always struggled fitting the theme to the game the production quality and especially the artwork is excellent.
Of Knizia's bidding games (and I love them all) this ranks near the top, mostly because of the versatility I mentioned earlier.
Ever felt that Reiner Knizia and Euro-games can be a little on the dry side?
Ra is a welcome change. The bidding, drawing of tiles and random appearance of the Ra tile (which results in a bidding round) make for a tense and exciting game. There are always laughs, cheers and curses when the dreaded Ra tile is drawn to finish an epoch (resulting in one of three scoring rounds).
I find Ra rich in strategy and tactics. Do you go for the monument or the Pharaoh strategy? Do you risk taking a low numbered bidding token to ensure your Nile tiles score? Do you bid early or risk it and wait? The random draw of tiles means you must be willing to switch strategies every epoch, while the scoring system is intricate yet not overly complex.
It also has a long shelf life. I have found a strong strategy which I have employed with great success - but I've owned the game a couple of years. It is still regularly played at our game club.
The only criticism I have is Aleas production values. No player aid score sheets (I couldn't imagine playing without one) and, incredulously for a game where tiles must be drawn in secret every turn, no bag.
People often, if not always, remark that the themes of Reiner Knizias games are thin or tacked-on. This comment has begun to take on the stale-joke quality of the observation that O.W. is fat or M.A. wears a toupee. Yes, the themes are sometimes arbitrary, this is true, but the question is, so what?
Is it meant to be understood that the strength of the theme is the barometer of how good a game is? In that case, we will have to throw out all the games played with a standard deck of cards. After all, bridge is a pretty poor simulation of building a bridge. Well have to chuck checkers and ditch dominoes. Forget that dopey game where the bishops are fighting horses. Sure, theres centuries of game play in that one, but what about that crummy theme? Yuck.
Ra is a game whose charm comes not from its recreation of a world of elves or wookies, but rather from the clever and balanced inner workings of the game itself. After a couple of plays one acquires a feel for how much the tiles are worth in a given circumstance, of the best way to spend suns, and of how quickly the end of an epoch can sneak up. The different collections of tiles each have their own character to them, and one soon learns when its too late to worry about monuments, or just how likely one is going to find a flood in time for scoring. This familiarity is as involving as the familiarity of a strong theme, perhaps more so in the long run. Maybe the first time you play Nascar Madness 2010 youre pretending to be a race car driver, but after three or four plays youll forget about the roaring crowds and burnt rubber and just concentrate on trying to roll a 6.
Anyway, regardless of the fact that Ras theme is independent of the game play, the artwork is eye-catching, and it more than serves the purpose of giving some kind of concreteness to the abstract understructure. I wish all games looked this good.
As others have said before, Ra is a great game. It is light, in that it is relatively short and simple and there is an element of luck, but it is also tense and engaging. Daydream at your own risk! It is true that it may take a couple of games for players to develop a full appreciation of it, but the point is its worth replaying--many times over.
Has anyone ever noticed that I am not very fond of Renier Knizia games? Do his games bother anyone other than me? Dry, abstract, mathmatical--not reasons I want to play a game. But Herr Knizia has made two games that I must salute: [page scan/se=0630/sf=category/fi=stockall.asc/ml=20]Through the Desert and Ra. I didnt want to like Ra, and I sure didnt think I would--a board, some small wooden disks, and a whole lot of cardboard tiles. Sure it says its all about Egypt and the pharoahs, but cmon, we are talking about a Knizia auction game here! How the heck can you bid on a Pharoah??? Well, this game certainly surprised me.
There isnt a lot to learning this game (which is in its favor), but something about the fact that the way you bid forces you to think of several different goals at one time makes the game really tense and exciting. What should you bid for? Pharoahs, Civilizations, gods, Monuments, Niles? What if the next set has the 2 Monuments youve been waiting for, but it has a Civilization killer that will take your two Civilization tiles leaving you with a penalty? Is it worth it? Questions like these are constantly coming before you, tearing at your brain!
The artwork is done quite well: sandy colors and hieroglyphesque art on the tiles. And gameplay is smooth, easy to learn, and plays quite quickly. Ra has almost no theme, but the artwork makes the different types of sets easy to distinguish and certainly adds some flavor to the game. This game is definitely more for the gamer crowd (your grandma probably wont like this one much, as opposed to Through The Desert, which I can see almost everyone liking) but it is a really good auction game. Recommended for gamers.
My gaming group held out on buying this game because it looked like a lame scoring track and a handful of tiles. Based on the reviews at hand I went and bought it, and it was a hit! The tiles are beautiful, and by adding a tile cloth bag and the player sheets from board game geek (Now why would the sheets not have been included with the game? It'd be a mess without them, and I would have docked the game 2 stars if they weren't available just on playability grounds), you now have a very tense game. With three players we get the job done in 30-45 minutes, with lots of stress to spread around. Fabulous!
Its really amazingeveryone Ive played Ra with really likes the game, but its hard to tell exactly what is so compelling about it. At its heart, it is a simple bidding game. Everyone bids for groups of tiles and they score based on the tiles that they have won. The groups of tiles being auctioned are always changing. This creates many possible strategiesyou have to bid for the tiles you want, but also you may want to bid for tiles to keep them out of the hands of your opponents. The method of auctioning and scoring layer on other strategies.
This game has been described as tense and I agree. It seems you are always on the edge of your seat waiting to see the next tile turned over. There is really no downtime and the game moves quickly. I would say the game is a light- to middle-weight game, and a good game to introduce people to German games.
Two minor flaws do exist in Ra. Firstly, the theme is almost irrelevant. If theme is important to you, look elsewhere. Secondly, there should have been scoring pads provided. Ra does employ some Knizia Scoring where tiles are scored in a myriad of different waysit can be a bit to keep track of. This is easily solved by downloading and printing the beautiful scoring pads available on BoardgameGeek.
And, by the way, the art is outstanding. A great game.
Another brilliantly conceived game by Herr Knizia. After its initial introduction to our gaming crowd, it has quickly become a favorite. There are many facets to this game beyond a routine "bid 'em up and make a set" type auction game (and there are few auction games that manage to keep their audiences captivated). The scoring is easy to understand; the long-term strategy keeps one from snoozing during a particular round; and the exchange mechanism of bidding tokens (as well as the end-of-the-game scoring bonus for winding up with the highest total-point count of these tokens) is by far as clever a concept as I have seen.
And, as an added bonus, for those who take some of their German games on vacation (like I do), Ra is very light and won't take up much room in one's carry-on!
Ra is also a game that can be played fairly quickly (about 45 minutes with 4 experienced gamers) and has very solid replay value, even immediately after the first game is scored up!
I cannot understand why Ra did not win [page sdj]Spiel des Jahres.....
There's been a ton written about Ra on this page already. I do have one important thing to add: go to Phil Dutre's games page and get his free Ra scoresheet. Print 5 for the players, on a color printer if possible. This makes the game much easier to play and understand.
I've come back to this game a few times in the past year, and it's one of my favorites right now. There's a luck element to it (e.g. getting a few Ra tiles in a row can kill the best laid plans, as the epoch suddenly ends), but when I lose I generally find the reason has to do with my own or others' play, not the order the tiles were drawn.
Stuart Dagger's review from Counter magazine, above, covers much of the strategies and issues that players must balance in Ra, so I just want to add that one of my favorite aspects of the game occurs in the decision to declare an auction. There is a typical 'Am I ready yet?' tension in deciding whether to declare an auction or not, but, in Ra, there is also another motivation. Declaring an auction, even on tiles one has no interest in, can force a tough decision on other players--do they bid or not, and how much? This is delicious.
As many other reviewers have mentioned, Ra is wonderfully balanced, and play is clear in spite of the multiplicity of scoring opportunities. I almost do not want to give it five stars because its biggest problem is that it is so attractive the player wants it to last longer or wants there to be even more to the game than there is.
This is it... my favorite game to play with 'part-time' gamers. It fits every criteria for a truly superior game... specifically, it raises the standard for 'Simple to Learn, but Complex Enough to Challenge'. Do you worry about setting yourself up for next round, or get yourself those good tiles THIS round? Can I afford to take that disaster? I can't score with these tiles unless I get those, too!
BRAVO! This is my favorite purchase this year.
First of all, how much fun is it to shout 'Ra!'? It's great.
We bought this game looking for something different (it is our first auction game) expecting some fun. We got a game with exciting subtlety and inexplicable addictiveness; after playing it a couple times to get the feel, we keep coming back to it time and time again.
Ra is highly enjoyable--not a big complicated game, but that's what we like about it--we can take it out and play it without sacrificing the whole evening. In fact, it's energizing, and could be used a fun 'warm up' game to get the juices flowing.
Ra just gets tougher and tougher to figure out. After a novice won a rare 5-player game (most of mine have been with 4 players), the more analytical among us realized we failed to adjust appropriately. Monuments (and their potential bonuses) now seem more important than previously thought. A single Flood tile can be crucial, as well as those exchangable God tiles. Players have to learn to cooperate, and snatch tiles away from someone who can really use them. Of course you'll have to 'call Ra' to force out others' Suns so you can use your own, need to consider the Sun you're going to get if you win the auction, and always cast a wary eye toward predicting the end of the epoch. Bottom line: Ra is simple to play, with a nice excitement level and great replayability. Truly a superb game for the casual and serious gamer alike.
Warning to readers - I do like Reiner Knizia games! When demonstration copies of Ra were being played at Essen in late 1998, I knew from the reports that I was going to like it even though it would be 6 months before I finally got to play it.
Reiner Knizia games tend to have a family tree, where you can trace design elements back to earlier Knizia games. With Ra, the genes of Mercator/[page scan/se=0172/sf=category/fi=stockall.asc/ml=20]Medici, along with a whiff of It's Mine can be spotted in the ancestry. Specifically, the lot bidding of Medici, combined with the variable scoring mechanics of It's Mine.
The theming of the game is light, but no lighter (or deeper) than other Knizia games. Players are trying to negotiate their Egyptian families through three epochs. Along the way they are using their Sun bidding tokens to acquire lots of tiles that are gradually drawn from a bag (there is no bag in the game, but we use one and just pass it from player to player). Players receive a small number of lots per epoch, so it's important to try and maximise your return when committing to a purchase.
A player's turn is very straightforward; a player may draw a tile and add it to the auction track; may play a god tile to plunder the auction track; or may invoke Ra to auction the existing lot of tiles. The auction is the quick and elegant 'once around the table' type, whick keeps the game moving at a quick pace.
While players only receive a few lots per epoch, a neat mechanism ensures that in some circumstances they may receive none at all! These are the dreaded Ra tiles which force an auction on the players. On top of that, the Ra tiles are an insidious mechanism that may force the end of an epoch before all players have an opportunity to purchase all they can. This can create some exquisite tension!
While half the game is bidding, the other half is collecting. At the end of each epoch, the score of the collected tiles depends on several factors - quantity, variance, and what the other players have collected. Bonuses and penalties are awarded based on how well or poorly players have fared relative to the other players. Points are paid out, or taken from, the players in the form of hidden tablet chips.
At the end of the game a final tally of victory points decides the winner, and this will be the player who kept a close eye on his opponents' sets and made the right bids at the right time.
This is the game of 1999 for me - simple to play, fast, beautifully balanced with some terrific tension. I've introduced this to gamers and non-gamers alike and each time a repeat game is immediately requested. It's that sort of game - you always feel you can do a little better and want to try it again straight away.
How this game could not even make it into the 10 finalists for Spiel des Jahres this year is beyond my comprehension. In my opinion, it should have won.
Ra is joy to play with a lot of repeat value. The goal of the game is to accumulate the most number of points. There are many items to bid upon with various ways of getting points for each type of item. The auction mechanism in the game runs smoothly and quickly as it is simply a once around auction. Chance plays enough of a role in the game to keep it exciting as players need to decide whether to bid now, or wait and see if they get better and more items for cheaper. Players are limited to the number of winning bids. The game components are first rate. We bought [page scan/se=0172/sf=category/fi=stockall.asc/ml=20]Medici at the same time we bought this game and after a few plays of each, Ra was the one everyone wanted to play again and again.
This is a great game! This game has a good combination of strategy with a little luck thrown in. The bidding in this game is quick - only one bid per person with minimal choices - this keeps the game moving. Scoring is different for each of the different types of pieces. This adds to the strategy.
You can't go wrong with this one. Keep 'em coming, Reiner!
I've played this game at a gaming convention in Eindhoven (The Netherlands) a few days ago. I liked it that much that I bought it right away. In the last week I've played it about ten times already, so that gives an idea on what I think of the game.
When checking out this page to see what people liked and disliked about it, I must say that the mentioned disadvantages are quite futile. So if you are planning on buying this game but feel reluctant from what you read on this page, do read on.
The most mentioned problems are
-) too dependant on luck since a round can end if the Ra tiles come one after the other. I would say : every game has its bit of luck. Take Settlers of Catan for instance. The main part of the game (gathering resources) is controlled by the dices. But this doesn't make it's luck-dependant like for instance monopoly (throw a six, you loose; throw a seven, you win). Since you need several tiles to end a round, you can plan your bidding based on the progress of the Ra-tiles. My verdict : this game is as luck-dependant as 'Settlers of Catan' or 'El Grande'.
-) The theme is weak. Well, so is the theme of chess and bridge (as mentioned before). To me, this is absolutely no disadvantage. The game concept is great and I couldn't care less about the theme that's woven around it ('Bohnanza' has an even worser theme but is still fun).
-) Calculation of victory points is too complicated. That's why they've print it on both sides of the game board and why there is a seperate score sheet for every player (which is floating around the neet as a pdf file somewhere).
To sum it up : I have this game for a week now and it is already in my favourites list and not likely to be taken out shortly (although I'm eagerly waiting to see Puerto Rico ;)). So, why didn't I gave it 5 points? 'Settlers of Catan' is still the best game so the difference must be clear.
This has become on of my favorite games, although I have yet to find a surefire strategy to win. Its an auction game, similiar in vein to MODERN ART. The theme feels pasted on as to all his games.. but the mechanics are strong and its a blast to play. The manual is a tough read, but once you begin to play it, it is simple and engaging.
Ra is an entertaining, light game that is a lot of fun to play. The mechanism of bidding for a variety of tiles with limited resources works very well and can make for some agonizing decisions (which I love in a game). It is one of the few games that I have played that works well with three people, and it is a lot of fun with four or five. I have heard it compared to Modern Art, but to me, it is ten times for strategic and fun. (In all fairness, I have only played Modern Art once.)
This is a great competitive game and I do enjoy playing it with the right people. The only reason that I don't give it a 5 star rating is because I have found that new players of the game can never grasp the concept on the first (or sometime second and third) game, leaving them little more than spectators until they work out all the scoring and simple strategy. But once you find some people who enjoy this game for what it is, it becomes a very quick, enjoyable, challening game.
This is a great game that I try to take out at least once a month. When I do, it usually gets played multiple times in a session.
It's true: like the themes in many Knizia games, this ancient Egyptian theme is merely the veneer for an excellent bidding game.
And, like most of Reiner's better games, the multiple scoring options stimulate a variety of strategies. 'Do I declare 'RA' now so I can get the last bid in, or let the auction track build in value and risk getting outbid?' Every decision has impacts later in the game.
Ra offers a lot of fun for both strategy gamers and families. Highly recommended.
Ra is part of Dr. Knizia's auction trilogy, which also contains [page scan/se=0172/sf=category/fi=stockall.asc/ml=20]Medici and [page scan/se=0042/sf=category/fi=stockall.asc/ml=20]Modern Art. Medici is the most accessible of the three, easily learned and played. Modern Art is the heavyweight of the group, with its tough zero-sum game mechanics and its many types of auction. Ra weighs in as the middle ground between the extremes, and has a charm all its own.
As with many Knizia titles, the theme is only barely laid upon the game mechanics, but this does not seem to detract overly much from the gaming experience. Played over three rounds, each round sees the players bidding for various groups of tiles which may have entirely different values to each player. Bidding is tense, since each player is limited in how many auctions can be won each round, as well as the fact that only one bid may be made per auction.
It is the scoring that gives Ra its depth. Some tiles provide immediate gains at the end of each round, while others only score at the game's end. Some tiles are seemingly only good for preventing a rather hefty penalty if you don't have enough of them.
Ra is quirky, but it is also a game that plays fairly quickly and feels quite different from other auction games. This is definitely a keeper.
Don't get me wrong, I think it's a great game, but we've all heard the good stuff, so I thought I'ld mention a few bad things.
I've only played Ra once, but already I can see that it's a winner. The sheer number of possibilities make it a game that has more options than a more 'pure' auction game such as Medici.
Chances are slim that you'll get every tile you want, so will you get a good selection of each kind of tile, or will you try to corner the market in something? The same strategy doesn't always work every time, so you have to be able to adapt.
The scoring seems daunting at first, with all sorts of conditions and positive and negative bonuses and so on; however, it is quick to learn what is good and bad as far as all the tiles and their combinations are concerned. A player who is ahead can easily lose their lead through a pile of disaster tiles and negative scoring bonuses.
The game is beautifully made - the tiles are thick glossy cardstock, the money chips are healthy chunks of wood, and the board and everything else are extremely pretty to behold. A very intriguing game.
We've played this several times now and like it pretty well! The interesting thing about it is that there are actually quite a few different things available to be won at auction. Comparing this to Modern Art, where you only ever buy one type of thing -- a painting by one of five artists -- or to Medici, where you only ever buy one type of thing -- one of five goods -- you feel like a kid in a candy store in Ra, because there are so many different purchases to choose among and you have to decide which ones.
Of course, this is still obviously a Knizia game, meaning that there are going to be plenty of things you would like to accomplish in the game that the game is never going to give you the time to accomplish. But your opponents are struggling against the same limitations, and that's what makes it a game.
After your first two or three tries, once you're familiar with the various things you can buy and their relative values, there should be no mystery about strategy. If you've got the boss sun, try to fill the auction track up with desirable purchase tiles. If you don't, call the auction sooner to try to get somebody else to spend the boss sun or, failing that, to get a bargain on a smaller purchase.
In a mere 45 minutes of play, you can expect to be rewarded with an interesting result, and you will more than likely look forward to playing again.
Let me start by saying that I am generally not a big fan of bidding games. But the Egyptian theme, and the Reiner Knizia designer label, were more than enough to get me to purchase this title... and I'm certainly glad that I did.
Gameplay is so fast and smooth, you hardly have to wait before it is your turn once again. Using various numbered Sun tokens as bidding tiles, players vie to gather Pharaoh's influence, find Golden treasure, advance their Civilization, build Monuments, and purchase Nile territory which they hope to Flood each of the 3 Epochs. Auctions can be involuntary (by drawing a Ra tile), or initiated by a player during their turn. Disasters like Funeral or Drought can throw a kink into your bid strategy, and the good tiles have to be balanced against the bad.
Typical of Knizia games, there are various interesting scoring mechanisms which challenge players to make a multitude of decisions during the game.
The graphical presentation of this game is simply beautiful. With 180 tiles (in a variety of categories) to randomly choose from during play, no two games will be the same. 3 to 5 players can complete a session in 45 minutes, making this a perfect 'lunch hour' type of product.
Ra is a lighter game than say Euphrat & Tigris, but no less enjoyable. You may not discover King Tut's tomb while playing this game, however a quick-moving and fun gaming experience will most certainly be found.
The most impressive thing about RA is the richness of the detailed, exotic tiles bringing an exquisite Egyptian theme. Alea/Rio Grande has put together an impressive package of mind candy. The rules are written with a unique flair with actual rules in a left hand column and rules summaries and strategy tips on the right.
The object of the game is to accumulate the most points by accumulating combinations of tiles that have been bid upon. Scoring is done in three 'epochs'. There are several combinations of tiles that award players with points and penalize by taking away points if certain tile requirements aren't met. Players try to get pharohs, god tiles, civilization tiles, Nile and flood tiles and monuments.
Each player begins the game with three or four sun tiles. These are the currency with which you gain tiles by bidding on tiles turned face up on a bidding track. On their turn, players may either turn a tile face up on the auction track, initiate an action by declaring 'Ra', or make special use of a god tile.
In the classic German style, the choices for players are limited and agonizing. Proper strategy as to when to bid and which sun to offer is hard to say.
The bidding is in the 'once around' style that Reiner used so effectively in Medici. The auction can also be initiated involuntarily, so its difficult to assess value of tiles on the scoring track.
Game play is tight, tense and regimented. With so many different ways to score, its hard to determine if the tiles you're carefully hoarding are worth anything.
The end scoring is tense because its hard to tell who the leader is because victory points are secret until the end of the game. The game is obviously mathematically balanced to ensure an interesting balance of tiles are available by game end.
The game is a hit with our group. We have played several times and have yet to settle upon a winning stratagy. Ra seems to be a tactics game, where evaluation of value on the spur of the moment keys victory.
The Egyptian theme is maintained through the beautiful tiles and elaborate detail expressed there. All in all, I'd put this game on a par with Samurai. So if you like Modern Art or Medici, take a shot on RA and you won't be disappointed!
There really is nothing else like Ra. A good game. The components are very well done and everything is top quality, as you'd expect from these guys. What makes the game stand out is its unique and rather abstract, bidding mechanic. What's appealing about this game is the vast number of options and outcomes that hang on each and every action a player takes. Endgame is everything here.
My problem with Ra is that it's a bit abstract for my liking. It was hard for me to really become attached to the game because of that. Dispite the rich illustrations and attention to detail, I think the system falls a little short.
This game has received such orgasmic praise I thought that when I played it I would experience a higher plane of existence. The gaming experience, unfortunately, just didn't deliver. I've played it about 5 or 6 times with different people, and we must be doing something wrong, (but we're not.) This is a bidding game with lots of bells and whistles, but never produces fun-type tension. The tension experienced is hoping that another stupid Ra tile is not turned over to ruin your game plan. Alas, Ra seems to invariably raise his ugly head.
The last couple of times I played it we removed a couple of the Ra tiles to add more strategy.
Not a single person I've played this game with has requested to play it again.
I've also played Medici. I find Medici way more fun, and the others who've played it with me concur. The scoring might be less complex, but you actually have more control when you are the dealer, and I find Medici to be the better game.
Knizia has offered 3 auction/bidding games; Ra being the latest. Of the 3, Medici, Modern Art and Ra, Ra is the most difficult for a new player to grasp. There are two problems. First, the theme does not make sense and therefore the new player cannot relate to the actions required; unlike Modern Art which is an art auction (Masterpiece on steroids).
The second problem with Ra is that there are far too many ways to score and it takes several playes before someone new to the game begins to grasp the scoring. Unfortunately, newer players tend not to want to be confused for 3 or 4 games and simply give up on it.
Ra simply has too much of everything. Modern Art is the best of Knizia's bidding games and the basics can be learned in one round.
Nerves of steel, canny evaluation of what's for sale, and precise timing are demanded by this exquisitely tense bidding game. Players in turn randomly pick Tiles which gain winning Victory Points or neutralize severe penalties. Less wealthy players can impose frightful dilemmas on richer ones by calling auctions at the opportune moment, hoping to buy a collection cheaply and get a valuable coin in exchange to spend next round. Will they dare to use their best coins just to stop you? Rounds are of uncertain duration and, in their closing moments, fraught with anxiety; they can end abruptly to stop your current spending. Better luck--no, precision!--next time. Whatever you offer me for this superb game is simply not enough.
There's a breathless hush as the tiles are turned. A Civilization. A Pharaoh. A God. "RA!" cries the poorest player, starting an auction. If the others pass, he will win the tiles cheaply.
Player A thinks: "Curses! My highest coin can win, but just to stop him from getting a bargain? Hmm..."
Player B: "If I bid my last coin and win, no more spending for me this round. Is it wise to quit?"
This subtle bidding game, the goal of which is to collect scoring sets of auctioned tiles, is full of seemingly unresolvable dilemmas. RA, represented by special tiles, crosses the firmament inexorably...
There's his last tile: Discard everything on the Auction track.
Player C. "Stupid! I should've bid!" A tightrope of bidding suspense that's far above the ordinary.
After several years when they just concentrated on children's games, Ravensburger are back with us and this time they are targeting not just the "10-Adult" market but the "gamers' game" market as well, something they haven't really done since the days of Metropolis fifteen years ago. What is more, it is clear that they have put a lot of thought and effort into the enterprise: a new brand name to act as a designer label; the teaming of a top games designer with a top graphic artist; a theme which lends itself to strong visual images; and an intelligent marketing strategy that would earn the respect of the film producers, Miramax. Never, to my knowledge, has a game been given as carefully orchestrated an entrance as this one, with a high profile preview at Essen ensuring that both it and the label were going to be grabbing the Nuremberg headlines well in advance of the event itself and while the opposition had nothing to fight back with apart from lists of titles. It is a clever way for a big firm to use its muscle and resources, clever provided the product being marketed is worth the fanfares you are giving it. Get it wrong and you have nowhere to hide. Fortunately, they haven't got it wrong, because Ra is a very good game. It was clear from the playtesting insights that Reiner gave us in the last issue that this was a game he sweated blood over before finally getting the mechanisms that would make it all fit together in the way that he hoped, but he has succeeded and the result is a game with parts that mesh beautifully, that is both simple to learn and quick to play and which gives you lots to think about.
The game to which Ra is closest in spirit is the same designer's Medici. Both are games where you collect objects in various categories, where you acquire the objects by bidding and where you are constantly having to balance what a set of objects is worth to you against what they are worth to an opponent. However, closeness of spirit is as far as the kinship goes. The mechanics are very different, with the later game being much more intricately wrought and having a more finely differentiated scoring system whose balances present the players with a steady steam of hard decisions. I speak with some ruefulness here, since I have yet to come close to getting this game right.
The board is a very simple one, showing nothing more than two shortish tracks on which tiles will be placed, a central space for a wooden token and some information at the edge about the scoring system and the tile distribution. The tiles are the things that you collect and they come in seven sets of different sizes, six of the seven being collectibles and the seventh a set of "Ra tiles", which help drive the game clock and give the players a sense of urgency.
There are 180 tiles, 30 of them Ra tiles, and on your turn you have two main options: you can either declare an auction for the tiles currently sitting on the collection track or you can draw a tile and add it to the board. If it is not a Ra tile, it goes on the collection track; if it is, it goes on the Ra track and an auction is held anyway. The epoch ends when either all players have bought a certain number of sets of tiles -- the number being dependent on the number of players -- or the Ra track is full. There are three epochs and the players score points at the end of each of them -- much as you do in Medici.
Not at all as in Medici is the way you pay for the sets of tiles. There it is done by dipping into your store of victory points; here it is done using a special set of wooden tokens known as "suns". There are sixteen of these, numbered 1 to 16, though the last three are only used in the 5-player game. At the start, the token numbered 1 is placed in the centre of the board and the others are distributed in balanced sets to the players. Auctions, when they are called, are "once round the table" affairs, ending with the person who either called the auction or drew the Ra tile. Any player who wishes to bid for the set of tiles on offer places one of their face-up sun tokens on to the board and the highest numbered token wins. The successful player then collects the tiles they have bought and places the token they have used as payment into the centre of the board, taking in its stead the one that was already there. This newly acquired token is placed face down in front of them, where it stays until the end of the epoch, when it is again inverted ready for re-use. The result of this is that each player always has the same number of tokens, but the numbers on them are constantly changing. This is one of the things you have to bear in mind when you are making your bid: it is not just the tiles you are getting; it is also the sun token that is currently in the centre and that will affect your ability to compete in the auctions of the next epoch.
The tiles that players collect fall into six groups -- pharaohs, bits of Nile, civilization advances, monuments, money and divine favours -- and each is scored differently. The first four are the important ones; the other two just being there for spice. It is always difficult to rationalise what is basically an abstract game, but the best approach here is to imagine that you are a noble family playing the prestige game and doing so over a very long stretch of time. Pharaoh tiles represent influence with a particular ruler. The prestige that comes with this is cumulative and the tiles that you get from this group stay with you until the end of the game (barring disaster tiles, of which there are a couple in each of the four main groups). At the end of each epoch, the player(s) with the most pharaoh tiles gain prestige points and those with the least lose some. Nile tiles represent land and this is something that, again barring disasters, also stays in the family. However, land in Egypt is no use unless it has irrigation and so you only score points for this group if your collection of Nile tiles includes at least one of the special flood tiles. Nile tiles also score at the end of each epoch, but this time it is not a matter of best/worst, but simply one of how many and although the basic land tiles stay with you into the next epoch, the precious flood tiles are lost. Civilization tiles represent family members who made special contributions in these areas. Such fame is more transitory and so these are tiles that you score at the end of the epoch and then lose. For a positive score from them you need to have at least three of the five different types, but just to make sure that this is not a category you can ignore, there is a fairly hefty penalty if you have none. Finally, there are the monuments. These only score at the end of the game, where it is a combination of number of different types and sub-collections of three or more of a kind.
The sun tokens also come into the scoring at the end via a clever extra idea that stops players having a "no tomorrow" approach to bidding in the last epoch. What happens here is that each player adds up the numbers on the sun tokens they finish the game with and there are then bonus points for the highest total and a penalty for the lowest.
The first review of Ra that I saw appeared on the Net before the game had even been released -- the writer having played it at a convention to which Jay Tummelson of Rio Grande had taken a copy. He was a bit disappointed with the game, feeling that it was repetitive and that players were not given enough options on each turn. "All you do is turn over tiles and bid" was the gist of his argument. He put his case well, but I feel that he was missing the point. After all, you could also say of Poker that all you do is turn over cards and bet, but that doesn't stop it being one of the greatest and most skillful card games ever invented, because those two little words "and bet" cover some subtle thinking in which the players have lots of factors to take into account. The same is true here of "and bid". It is not just a matter, as it usually is in collecting games, of deciding what to concentrate on and not worrying too much about the rest. The penalty points in this game are pitched at a level that, though not decisive, is still enough to hurt and so you can't ignore categories. You might not have a chance of first place in Pharaohs, but it is still worth trying to avoid being last. Then there are the points that come for spread in some of the groups. These can make a set of tiles very valuable for an opponent and mean that you don't want him to have them. Is stopping him important enough to justify the expenditure of one of your precious sun tokens? If so, how high are you prepared to go? Is it likely that someone else will also have spotted the danger and be willing to do the job for you? You also have to consider the probable influence on people's thinking of the number on the sun token currently in the centre of the board. How valuable is that to various people, given the tokens they have face-up in front of them? Even what seems like the straightforward matter of deciding how to use your high-numbered tokens turns out to be more complicated in practice. If you have the highest face-up token, you feel that it ought to be possible to wait until a large set of useful tiles has built up on the board and then take it by force. Unfortunately, the opposition soon learn how to stop the collection getting too large and how to take the shine off your purchase by manoeuvring a low-numbered sun into the centre. Meanwhile the number of tiles on the Ra track is building up and the looming "end of epoch" threatens to leave you empty-handed. With a less finely-tuned and subtly differentiated scoring system, without the constantly shifting balance of the numbers on the sun tokens and without the "time is pressing" mechanism of the Ra track, the game could have been repetitive in the way that that first reviewer claimed, but as things are it is not. The bidding rounds, like the betting rounds in a game of Poker, each present you with a new set of circumstances and the fact that you know exactly what each opponent's options would be were a bidding round to be called means that you can create situations that will present the opposition with decisions they won't like.
As you will have gathered, I like this game.